Those who know me or have followed this blog know that I tend to have a slightly different viewpoint than the standard police thinking. This doesn’t mean I’m anti-police or that I have turned my back on the profession I love, or those I served with for twenty-five years. I’ve always had a slightly different perception of how to improve policing.
It’s not surprising, then, that I find myself at odds with many of my police friends and former colleagues over the many political arguments of the day.
This week’s example of my heresy involves a Florida Sheriff who doesn’t believe the media hoax that wearing a mask in public will help stop the spread of COVID-19. You’ve likely seen this story. However, the sheriff took his political beliefs into dangerous territory when he issued an order prohibiting his deputies and other employees from wearing a mask on duty. He does allow exceptions when a deputy is at a hospital, nursing home, or in the presence of a person known to be infected. The sheriff also prohibits visitors entering the sheriff’s office building from wearing masks. He cites officer safety for this rule.
The sheriff claims that for every professional who gives reasons to wear masks, he can find just as many other professionals who disagree. Not true. The vast majority of health experts agree that masks greatly help prevent spread of the virus. Are they 100% miracle cure? No. But, we could say the same for seatbelts and ballistic vests, right? What about putting on gloves when you search suspects or if you think someone might have HIV or Hepatitis? Commonsense safety precautions are good policy.
Sheriff Woods issued this anti-mask order on the same week that Florida recorded 542,000 cases and more than 8,600 deaths. The state added 277 more deaths on Tuesday and Marion County also set a record for daily deaths on Tuesday, with 13.
Here’s why this matters to you, my fellow cop: As of this writing, the Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP) lists COVID 19 as far and away the leading cause of law enforcement deaths so far in 2020. COVID-19 has claimed 80 law enforcement lives, while gunfire comes in a distant second at 29. In Sheriff Woods’ own department, 200 inmates have tested positive, along with 36 jail employees, including officers. A nurse at the jail has also died of COVID-19.
My friends, I know that the culture wars are hard to resist and cops are under a lot of stress right now. It’s tempting to fall into our information silos because we want to hear messages of support, but not if those same bubbles push conspiracies or junk science that threatens our health. We can see so clearly the need to have police expertise at the table in the debate for police reform. Why then would we reject the overwhelming body of scientific research on a contagious virus that is killing too many of us?
Sheriff Woods’ anti-mask order risks his own deputies’ safety for the sake of a cheap headline. That is shameful. Any law enforcement leader who puts his or her deputies, officers, and the public at risk, based upon rigid political views is not a leader at all. None of us should applaud this behavior.